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Liquid hydrogen seen as 'holy grail' for hydrogen uptake in mobility sector: Linde COO

Highlights

Liquid hydrogen allows longer distance

Costs are offset by efficiencies

Industrial gas and chemicals company Linde sees liquid hydrogen as the "holy grail" for unlocking hydrogen use in the mobility sector, COO Sanjiv Lamba said Nov. 16.

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A world leader in hydrogen liquefaction technology, Linde operates a $2 billion hydrogen business with aims to quadruple its hydrogen divisions within the next 15 years, Lamba said during a webinar hosted by Goldman Sachs. And liquid hydrogen will be a big part of that direction, he said.

"All mobility today uses gaseous hydrogen only," he said. "Even where we set up liquid refueling centers, in the end what we actually fill in the tank of the car or bus or truck is still gas. There is development ongoing looking at moving that to liquid, and obviously it comes with some complexity."

Using liquid hydrogen in heavy-duty transportation vehicles rather than compressed hydrogen has the key advantage of allowing vehicles to travel father distances without compromising their payload, he said. A Class 8 truck using compressed hydrogen has a range of about 300 km to 350 km. But in order for the hydrogen economy to move forward in the mobility sector, Lamba said, the range must be increased to around 1,000 km, which can be unlocked through the introduction of liquid hydrogen fuel cells.

"We are deeply engaged in that, and it's an exciting opportunity for that technology to move forward," he said.

There are slightly different sets of economic scenarios surrounding gaseous hydrogen versus liquid hydrogen. While the hydrogen liquefication process adds a cost, these costs can often be offset in two primary ways, Lamba said.

First, the transportation of liquid hydrogen is more cost effective than gaseous hydrogen. According to a 2019 S&P Global Platts Analytics report, compression and liquefactions accounts for between 80% to 87% of transportation costs. But because of the low density of gaseous hydrogen, more energy can be stored in liquified form.

The Platts Analytics report found that trucking gaseous hydrogen is a mature technology appropriate for situations where demand is sporadic or low, limiting its use to small operations. Trucking liquid hydrogen, conversely, offers the capability to deliver large volumes at a competitive rate and is the "most likely technology to bridge the gap for hydrogen uptake in the midterm," it said.

According to Lamba, one tanker truck of liquid hydrogen can transport about five times the amount of energy contained in one tanker truck of gaseous hydrogen.

Platts data shows that while a single truck can carry between 500 kg and 1,100 kg of hydrogen in gaseous form, a truck carrying liquefied hydrogen can carry up to 3,500 kg.

Using liquid hydrogen requires significant investment in liquefaction terminals, insulated storage tanks and trunk trailers, but this also saves money on semi-trucks, high pressure storage and transportation fuel, according to the Platts Analytics report.

"Due to the high required capital investment of a liquefaction plant, liquid hydrogen is typically saved for medium to high demand volumes that are consistent enough to validate the investment," the report said.

"The economics of just moving that product are just so much better, and you have so much more control over managing that in the supply chain," Lamba said.

The second efficiency associated with liquid hydrogen is related to the footprint of hydrogen installations, which are much smaller and more able to be integrated into congested or dense areas. For instance, Linde is currently developing a liquid hydrogen project in South Korea that benefits from its relatively smaller size.

"The economics of liquid hydrogen play out quite well," Lamba said. "For short distances, long distances, larger payloads, liquid hydrogen will be the obvious option in due course."

According to Platts price assessments, the pump price of hydrogen in California, where majority of US hydrogen refueling stations are located, was $15.71/kg as of Nov. 15.